Sunday, 28 February 2016

346 Angels

First  Viewed : Uncertain

I'm  not  sure  when  I  first  caught  this  series  which  had  been  running  since 1975  but  May  1978 when  it  was  switched  from  Mondays  to  Tuesdays  and  didn't  clash  with  Coronation  Street  anymore  seems  a  good  guess.  I  could  take  it  or  leave  it  but  my  mum  and  sister  were  huge  fans.

Angels  followed  the  adventures  of  a  group  of   student   nurses,  initially  at  a  hospital  called  St  Angela's  Battersea  although  the  setting  was  switched  to  a  hospital  in  Birmingham.  Despite  its  early  evening  time  slot,  the  storylines  were  quite  hard-hitting  and  caused  some  unease  with  the  suggestion  that  nurses  were  not  all  Florence  Nightingale  types  and  might  be  fallible  human  beings. This  was  typified  by  the  character  of  Rose  Butchins  played  by  Kathryn  Apanowicz,  a  loud , stroppy  nightmare.

With  its  regularly  refreshed  cast  of  attractive  young  women  in  uniforms  the show  had  a  considerable  male  following  and  switched  to  a  twice  weekly  soap  format  - though  it  wasn't  on  all  year  round - from  1979  onwards.  It  finished  in  1983  because  its  creators  Julia  Smith  and  Tony  Holland  had  a  bigger  fish  to  fry  and  some  of  the  angels ,including  Apanowicz , later  turned  up  in  Albert  Square.

Thursday, 25 February 2016

345 Happy Days

First  viewed  : 1978

I  first  about  this  show  from  a  rather  colourful  character  at  school  called  Gerald  Van  Kleef  who  was  absolutely  obsessed  by  fifties  iconography. We  were  talking  about  his  obsession  with  Elvis  and  he  mentioned  there  was  a  guy  on  the  telly  who  was  even  cooler  than  Elvis  called  The  Fonz. I'd  never  heard  of  him  and  a  look  in  the  TV  Times  didn't  reveal  any  programme  of  that  name  so  there  was  a  bit  of  a  time  lag  before  I  realised  what  Gerald  was  on  about .

I  won't  talk  at  length  about  Happy  Days  because  I  wasn't  impressed  with  what  I  saw  and  I  doubt  I  watched  more  than  half  a  dozen  episodes  over  the  years. I  never  saw  Suzi  Quatro  , Robin  Williams  or  the  infamous  shark  jumping  episode. It  presented  a  very  rose-tinted  view  of   small  town  America  from  the  mid-fifties  to  the  mid-sixties  with  each  series  roughly  representing  a  year, cutting  off  just  before  Vietnam  soured  the  picture  somewhat  although  in  truth  the  series  had  come  off  the  rails  by  then. I  don't  know  if  ITV  kept  faith  with  the  series  right  till  the  end.

The  series  span  out  of  an  anthology  show , Love, American  Style  but   the  real  spur  to  its  development  was  the  phenomenal  success  of  George  Lucas's  nostalgia-fest  American  Graffiti . The  Fonz  ( Henry  Winkler )  was  only  meant  to  be  a  supporting  character  but  soon  grew  to  outshine   the  rest  of  the  cast  put  together  including  the  show's  nominal  star  Ritchie  Cunningham  played  by  the  annoyingly  clean-cut  Ron  Howard. The Fonz  lodged  with  the  Cunningham  family  including  toothy, unattractive  sister  Joanie  ( Erin  Moran )  though  how  he  paid  his  rent  was  always  up  for  debate  as  he  seemed  to  have  no  fixed  occupation, just  plenty  of  time  to  swagger  into  the  diner  in  his  black  leather  jacket- white  T-shirt, DA quiff  combo , play  the  juke  box by  bumping  it  and  show  off  some  unusual  dance  moves. Great  credit  is  due  to  Winkler,  who  always  comes  across  as  pretty  geeky  in  other  roles, for  creating  a  character  that  mesmerised  millions  on  both  sides  of  the  Atlantic  and  is  still  a  byword  for  supposed  cool.  Ritchie  had  two  other  buddies  Potsie  and  Ralph  Malph  as  foils  but  I  can  remember  very  little  about  them.

The  show  eventually  came  to  an  end  in  1984  with   an  egotistical  story  line  about  Howard  going  off  to  become  a  film  director  which  he  was  already  doing  of  course  and  very  successfully  to  this  day. Winkler  attempted  to  follow  in  his  footsteps  but  signally  failed  to  eclipse  him  for a  second  time . He  returned  to  acting  in  the  nineties  and  has   kept  himself  busy  but  always  in  the  shadow  of   a  character  who  is  a  true  TV  legend.    

Monday, 22 February 2016

344 The Devil's Crown

First  viewed : 30  April  1978

Having  got  their  fingers  sizzled  with  the  infamous  Churchill's  People  three  years  earlier  , the  Beeb  stuck  this  new  historical  drama  series  safely  away  on  BBC2  at  9pm  on  a  Sunday  night  with  a  late  night  repeat  on  Fridays. The  Devil's  Crown  followed  the  fortunes  of   the  first  three  Plantagenet  kings  ( Henry  II , Richard  I , John )  from  Henry's  marriage  to  Eleanor  of  Aquitaine  to  the  death  of  John.  It  strove  to  be  historically  accurate  so  it  was  helpful  to  have  such  larger  than  life  characters  centre  stage.

We  started  watching  it  as  a  family- a  pretty  rare  event  - but  my  dad's  participation  didn't  last  long. What  made  him  most  difficult  to  live  with  was  his  mania  about  noise. Whether  it  was  due  to  autism, particularly  sensitive  hearing  or  his  earlier  training  to  be  a  monk  in  Ireland  ( needless  to  say  he  didn't  make  it  ) he  wanted  to  live  in  a  very  quiet  house. His  mortal  fear  was  the  next  door  neighbours  hearing  some  noise  from  our  house  and  deciding  it  was  OK  to  blast  pop  music  through  the  walls. And  so  he  started  watching  this  with  us  but  every  time  someone  raised  their  voice  - which  was  pretty  much  every  other  line - he  got  up  and  adjusted  the  volume. After  about  ten  minutes  of  this  Mum  protested  that  he  was  being  ridiculous  and  ruining  the  programme  upon  which  he  left  us  to  it.

We  didn't  last  beyond  the  first  episode. The  programme  had  a  decent  script  but  it  was  hemmed  in  too  much  by  the  budget.  The  characters  declaimed  in  front  of  painted  backdrops  that  looked  like  they'd  last  been  used  on  Sir  Prance-A-Lot.  At  one  point  Henry  plucks  a  peach  from  a  metal  tree. All  the  battles  had  to  be  covered  by  messengers  arriving  with  news after  the  event. It  was  just  too  stage-y   and  claustrophobic  for  a  commitment  to  watch  thirteen  55  minute  instalments.

Nevertheless  it  was  a  key  series  for  some  of  its  cast. Playing  Henry  was   the  breakthrough  role  for  Brian  Cox  who's  never  looked  back  and  John  Duttine  also  scored  as  John   although  he's  less  prominent  these  days . Simon  Gipps-Kent  pops  up  again  as  the  ill-fated  Arthur  of  Brittany.

The  series  has  never  been  re-broadcast  or  released  on  DVD  but  it  was  popular  in  France  and  at  the  time  of  writing  can  be  viewed  on YouTube  as  a  result.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

343 Petrocelli

First  viewed :  21 April  1978

After  Life  At  Stake  finished  its  run   we  had  a  feature  length  pilot  episode  introducing  us  to  Petrocelli   , an  idealistic  defence  lawyer   played  by  Barry  Newman. Newman  had  had  the  leading  role  in  films  such  as  Vanishing  Point  and  Fear  Is  The  Key  earlier  in  the  decade  but  never  quite  made  the  A-list.  He  first  played  the  role  in  the  film  The  Lawyer  in  1970  and  was  the  only  member  of  the  cast  to  make  the  transition  to  the  TV  series  four  years  later.

The  Beeb  were  slow  to  take  up  their  option  on  Petrocelli  ; the  series  had  been  axed  in  the  US  more  than  two  years  earlier. I'm  guessing  that  after  the  failures  of  Gangsters  and  Life  at  Stake  they  were  looking  for  something  cheap  and  cheerful  to  fill  the  slot  until  the  second  series  of  Target  was  ready  to  air.    

Tony  Petrocelli  worked  in  a  backwater  of  Arizona  where  he  lived  in  a  trailer  with  wife  Maggie  ( Susan  Howard )  while  his  house  got  built. The  standing  joke  of  the  series  was  that  the  building  never  got  any  further  towards  completion.  His  professional  role  allowed  for  a  new  twist  on  what  was  really  another  detective  series. Petrocelli  took  on  difficult  cases  where  the  odds  were  stacked  against  him  and  he  had  to  find  some  vital  piece  of  evidence  to  get  his  client  off. Part  of  each  episode  was  taken  up  with  flashbacks  showing  "the  facts"  of  the  case  from  different  perspectives, the  final  one  of  which  was  "the  truth"  uncovered  by  our  diligent  advocate. He  was  aided  in  his  investigations  by  cowboy  pal  Pete  ( Albert  Salmi ) and  the  obligatory  friend  on  the  force,  the  magnificently  named  Lt  Ponce  ( David  Huddleston ) . Occasionally  Petrocelli  did  eventually  realise  his  client  was  guilty  after  all  but  always  managed  to  persuade   them  to  change  their  plea  so  we  didn't  get  to  see  him  trying  to  get   someone  he  knew  to  be  guilty  off  the  hook. He  drove  a  pick-up  truck  like  a  madman, perhaps  in  jokey  reference  to  his  speed  freak  character  in  Vanishing  Point.

I  thought  it  was  quite  good  and  it  returned  for  a  further  run  after  Target  finished. It  was  also  broadcast  again  as  a  daytime  programme  in  the  late  nineties. Newman  has  continued  working  in  film  and  TV  until  quite  recently  with  a  regular  role  in  Nightingales  in  1989  the  subsequent  highlight. Howard   of  course  was  a  bit  luckier. The  producer  of  the  series  was  Leonard  Katzman  who  went  on  to  make  Dallas  and  gave  her  ( though  not  immediately )  a  leading  role  as  Donna  Krebbs  and  thus  TV  immortality.

Friday, 19 February 2016

342 Living In The Past

First  viewed :  Early  1978

This  was  not  something  I  watched  by  choice. In  the  spring  term  of   my  second  and  final  year  at  St  Wilfrids  School,  the  shorter  of  the  two  "Art "  periods    ( Thursday  afternoons  if  I  recall  correctly  ) was  taken  up  instead  by  a  lesson  with  deputy  head  Frank  Randle.  Randle  was  a  cantankerous  martinet  with  no  sense  of  humour  but  these  lessons  did  show  a  mellower  side  of  him. They  were  sometimes  described  as  "Logic" but  were  in  fact  pretty  free form  i.e  he'd  talk  about  anything  that  interested  him  at  the  time. However  in  the  term  my  group  had  him  he  didn't  do  much  talking  , just  slipped  in  a  VHS  tape  ( rare  at  the  time  )  of  this , recorded  from  the  TV.  I  never  found  it  very  interesting  but  it  was  an  undemanding  lesson.

Nevertheless,  Living  In  The  Past , was  a  ground-breaking  and  influential  series, the  forerunner  to  all  those  historical  hardship  reality  series  like  The  1900s  House  and  the  currently  running  10,000  BC.   There's  also  a  clear  linkage  to  Castaway  , nearly  a  quarter  of  a  century  later.  15  volunteers  ( including  three  children  )  were  selected  to  live  as  an  Iron  Age  community  for  a  year  in  a  wood  clearing  in  Dorset. Though  allowed  some  modern  tools  and  supplies  to  get  them  through  the  winter  the  volunteers  were  required  to  become  self-sufficient  in  time.

This  being  a  more  innocent  age  the  participants  were  selected  more  for  their  aptitude  than  any  telegenic  qualities. There  was  no  Ben  Fogle  Adonis  figure  hogging  the  camera  here,  just  some  taciturn  beardy  guys  and  unmade  up  ladies   getting  on  with  the  hard  grind  of  sustaining  themselves. There  was  a  bit  of  casual  nudity  in  the  warmer  months  but  nothing  prurient. None  of  the  participants  went  on  to  have  TV  careers  though  some  of  their  children  participated  in  a  poorly-received  follow-up  show  Surviving  in  the  Iron  Age  in  2001.


Thursday, 18 February 2016

341 Sit Thi Deawn

First  viewed  :  January  1978

There  is  a  bit  of  a  hole  in  Genome  if  you  don't  live  in  London. It  doesn't  consistently  give  you  the  variations  in  the  Regional  TV  slots. And  so  throughout  the  early  months  of  1978 it  shows  a  half-hour  edition  of  news  magazine  Tonight   in  the  22.15  pm   slot  on  a  Friday  night  when  the  other  regions  were  broadcasting  something  completely  different.

In  the  early  part  of  1978  it  was  "Sit  Thi  Deawn" . As  the title  would  suggest   it  showcased  "traditional"  Lancashire  entertainment i.e  non politicised  folk  music  and  humourous  dialect  poetry. It  was  profoundly  backward-looking  and  you  suspect  that  much  of  its intended  audience  would  already  be  in  bed  with  a  cup  of  cocoa  by  the  time  it  was  broadcast  but  the  programme  ran  on  until  the  mid  eighties  so  someone  was  watching  it.

The  programme  was  hosted  by  the  Westhoughton  folk  group  the  Houghton  Weavers  and  named  after  one  of  their  songs. They  were  generous  enough  to  give  some  exposure  to  a  rival  outfit  The  Oldham  Tinkers. In  the  latter  part  of  1978  I  discovered  that  the  Tinkers  were  not  a  full time  outfit  because  one  of  their  number  Gerry  Kearns  was  a  geography  teacher  at  my  final  school. He  wasn't  very  popular. I  didn't  do  geography  but  he  had  the  reputation  of  being  strict, humourless  and  unyielding. That  was  only  among  the  pupils  though ; the  staff  I've  talked  to  since  remember  him  as  being  very  charming  and  obliging. His  son  is  the  successful  actor  Gerard  Kearns  ( the  gay  lad  in  Shameless )  who  must  live  somewhere  near  me  as  I've  seen  him  in  church  a  few  times.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

340 A Sharp Intake of Breath

First  watched : Uncertain

This  show  started  following  Coronation  Street  on  a  Monday  in  February  1978  but  when  I  first  caught  it  is  anyone's  guess. It  is  chiefly  remembered  for  giving  David  Jason  his  first  starring  role  as  Peter  Barnes,  the  Everyman  continually  frustrated  by  petty  bureaucrats  and  jobsworths  always  played  ( as  different  characters )   by   Richard  Wilson  ( who  must  surely  have  been  aware  of  the  similarity  of  the  premise  when  making  One  Foot  In  The  Grave  years  later )  and  Alun  Armstrong. I  remember  it  as  being  pretty  funny  but  I  never  watched  it  religiously. It  ran  for  four  series ( although  1980 's  only  ran  for  three  episodes)  until  1981  when  Jason  moved  on  to  his  most  famous  vehicle.

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

339 Mixed Blessings

First  viewed : 3  March  1978

Mixed  Blessings  was  a  new  comedy  series  based  around  the  inter-racial  relationship  between  a  white  guy ( Christopher  Blake )  and  a  black  girl ( Muriel  Odunton )  and  the  mutual  wariness  of  their  respective  families. It  seems  to  have  escaped  the  opprobrium  meted  out  to  the  likes  of  Mind  Your  Language ( which  it  followed  on  Friday  nights )  but  whether  that's  because  its  cautiously  liberal  approach  passes  the  pc  test  or  it's  simply  been  forgotten  I  couldn't  say.

Regardless  of  that , it  was  certainly  an  improvement  to  the  Friday  schedule  when  it  replaced  the  awful  Maggie  And  Her,  without  ever  being  really  funny.  It  lasted  for  three  series, the  last  being  in  1980. It  ended  with  them  having  a  child  which  I  remember  ( about  the  only  incident  I  can  recall ) though  whether  I'd  watched  it  all  the  way  through  is  questionable.

Blake  worked  steadily  , with  regular  roles  in  two  more  sitcoms  That's  My  Boy  and  Down  To  Earth   until  his  death  in  2004. Odunton  , who  was  originally  from  Ghana, relocated  to  the  USA  as  soon  as  the  series  finished  and  hasn't  been  heard  from  since.

Monday, 15 February 2016

338 Armchair Thriller

First  viewed : 21  February  1978

This  show  was  made  by  Thames  TV  and  was  shown  twice-weekly  on  Tuesdays  and  Thursdays. The  first  series  comprised  five  completely  separate  stories  adapted  from  previously  published  work  and  split  into  four  or  six  episodes.

The  first  one  was  Rachel  in  Danger , about  a  shy  intelligent  Scottish  girl  who  takes  the  train  to  London for  a  short  stay  with  a  father  she  hasn't  seen  since  she  was  a  toddler  and  who  normally  works  in  South  America. Unfortunately  he's  been  followed  over  by  a  friend  Juan   (  played  by  the  very  busy  Stephen  Grief  of  Blake's  7  and  Citizen  Smith  fame )  who  promptly  murders  him  to  steal  his  identity  for  a  terrorist  operation  and  isn't  expecting  company. What  follows  is  just  a  little  contrived  but  eminently  watchable, in  fact  seeing  it  again,  it's  better  than  I  remembered.  The  girl,  Della  Low,  isn't  much  cop  and  looks  suspiciously  like  she's  reading  from  cue  cards  held  above  her  co-stars'  shoulders  but  it's  still  pretty  gripping  thanks  to  excellent  performances  from  Grief  and  his  terrifying  Japanese  accomplice  Aiyako  ( Eiko   Nakamura ) a  study  in  icy  fanaticism. Struan  Rodger  pops  up  again  as  another  of  the  terrorists  though  I  didn't  recognise  him  as  the  guy  from  Joe  and  the  Sheep  Rustlers.

That  one  was  in  four  parts , the  next  one  "A  Dog's  Ransom",  was  in  six  and  was  adapted  from  a  Patricia  Highsmith  novel.  It  starts  with  the  kidnapping  of  a  poodle  from  a  middle  class  couple  by  an  unsavoury  and  resentful  Polish  immigrant  who  demands  a  ransom. We  know  by  the  end  of  the  first  episode  that  he's  killed  the  dog  but  that's  not  the  point. The  police  are  not  that  interested  apart  from  a  smart  young  detective  who  investigates  the  case  in  his  own  time  and  brings  a  heap  of  trouble  on  himself  and  his  girlfriend. If  I  recall  correctly  she  gets  sent  thirty  chocolate  coins  except  it's  not  exactly  chocolate  under  the  wrappers. Matters  escalate  to   a  very  grim  conclusion, topped  off  with  an  ironic  final  scene  of  the  couple  happily  playing  with  a  replacement  dog . However  there  wasn't  enough  action  for  some  of  my  peers  at  school  who  decried  it  as  slow  and  boring  and  I  fear  I  may  have  listened  to  them  because  none  of  the  subsequent  stories  ring  any  bells.  In  fact,  judged  on  the  first  two  stories , the  subject  matter  is   remarkably  dark  for  a  pre-watershed  show  and  the  fact  they  had  to  pull  a  few  punches  in  its  presentation  shouldn't  have  put  anyone  off.  

Sunday, 14 February 2016

337 Ludwig

First  viewed : 3  March  1978

I'm  very  surprised  to  read  that  this  was  actually  made  in  Britain, having  long  thought  that  this  must  have  been  a  German  import,  the  brainchild  of  some  hermit  living  in  the  depths  of  the  Black  Forest.  However  it  was  created  by  Czech  exiles  which  would  account  for  its  mid- European  strangeness.

Ludwig  is  by  far  the  weirdest  series  that  ever  filled  the  Magic  Roundabout  slot  and  so  came  into  my  Friday  night  viewing  schedule. It  had  been  first  broadcast  the  year  before  but  passed  me  by.  Seeing  it  in  the  Radio  Times  I  asked  my  friend   Patrick  what  it  was  like  and  I  remember  him  struggling  for  a  description.

Ludwig  was  a   sort  of   alien  machine  disguised  as  a  gemstone   who  lived  in  the  woods  entertaining  the  animals  with  the  music  of   Beethoven   whether  they  wanted  it  or  not  and  generally  interfering  in  their  daily  existence  with  his  retractable  mechanical  limbs. His  activities  were  observed  by  a  man  in  a  deerstalker  hat,   uttering  the  annoying  catchphrase  "Aah  Ludwig!  "  at  regular  intervals  and  giving  a  narration  which  consisted  of  telling  you  what  you'd  just  seen  for  yourself. Perhaps  he  was  Evan  Davies  in  disguise ?

I  didn't  know  what  to  make  of  it;  was  it  trying  to  get  toddlers  into  classical  music ?  It  just  seemed  completely  off  the  wall.  There  were   25   5 minute  episodes  in  total.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

336 Life At Stake

First  viewed : 17  February  1978

It  might  have  made  the  cover  of  Radio  Times  but  this  series  really  has  fallen  down  the  plughole  when  it  comes  to  popular  recollection. I  honestly  did  know  it  was  coming  round  without  the  help  of  Genome  but  it  does  feel  like  I'm  treading  through  virgin  snow  here. There's  nothing  on  wikipedia  or  TV  Cream  and  very  little  on  imdb , just  an  incomplete  cast  list  and  an  erroneous  "A"  added  to  the  title.

Life  At  Stake  took  over  the  Friday  night  post-news  slot  from  Gangsters   and  was  a  series  of  eight  dramatic  reconstructions  of  some  of  the  more  traumatic  news stories  of  the  decade, some  of  them  so  recent  that  I'd  been  able  to  follow  them. That  was  the  case  with  the  first  episode  in  the  series  which  recreated  the  ordeal  of  Dr  Tiede  Herrema. In  one  of  the  stranger  incidents  during   The  Troubles, the  inoffensive  Dutch  owner  of  a  factory  in  Limerick  was  abducted  in  1975  by  an  escaped  IRA  convict  Eddie  Gallagher  and  his  girlfriend  Marian  Coyle  who  then  demanded  the  release  of  some  Republican  prisoners. The  Irish  police tracked  them  down to  a  house  in  Dublin  and  after  a  tense  three  week  siege, sanity  prevailed  and  the  kidnappers  gave  themselves  up  with  Herrema  unharmed. Some  Stockholm  Syndrome  bonding  had  occurred  between  Gallagher  and  his  captive  and  he  considerately  gave  the  doctor  one  of  his  bullets  as  a  momento.

The  other  events  covered  were :  the  rescue  of  Pisces  III   a  submersible  that  got  in  trouble  under  the  Irish  Sea  in  1973, the  hi-jacking  of  a  train in  Holland  by  South  Moluccan  terrorists   in 1975,  the  seizure  of  the  West  German  embassy  in  Stockholm  by  the  Baader-Meinhof  gang  the  same  year, the  Faraday  school  kidnapping  in  Australia in  1972 , Apollo 13, an  episode  of  post- plane crash  cannibalism  in  remote  Canada  in  1972  and  the  kidnapping  of British  diplomat  James  Cross  by  Quebec separatists  in  1970 . Although  Genome  doesn't  give  any  more  clues  I'm  wondering  if  it  was  an  international  venture ; the  production  values  were  pretty  high, it  was  all  on  film  and  I  don't  recall  thinking  the  effects  on  the  Apollo  13  episode  were  shoddy.

Overseas  money  or  not,  the  series  had  problems  and  it  has  never  been  repeated  or  released  on  VHS / DVD. The  chief  problem  was  that  in  most  of  the  cases  you  knew  how  it  turned  out  so  you  needed  to  engage  with  the  characters  to  make  it  really  gripping. That  was  difficult  enough  given  the  time  frame  but  here  it  was  compounded by  the  need  to  avoid  giving  offence  to  people  who  were  very  much  still  alive  and  hence  to  stick  rigidly  to  what  was  in  the  public  domain. With  the  series  largely  eschewing  recognisable  actors  - I  only  know  Edward  Hardwicke, Tony  Osoba  and  Sylvestra  La  Touzel  from  the  cast  list - what  you  had  were  basically  50  minute  Crimewatch  reconstructions  with  the  same  potential  for  emotional  engagement. It  also  suffered  from  the  same  disadvantage  as  Gangsters  in  being  up  against  The  Professionals  on  the  other  channel.

Although  it  was  obviously  a  failure   and   never  gets   mentioned  in  despatches  I  think  the  programme  does  have  some  significance  as  an  early  experiment  in  docudrama. I've  already  mentioned  Crimewatch  and  if  you  take  away  the  terrorism  episodes,  what's  left  looks  pretty   similar  to  the  nineties  series  999. 

Thursday, 11 February 2016

335 Grange Hill

First  viewed : 8  February  1978

This  is  another  milestone. Although  it's  not  quite  the  last  children's  programme  in  this  list  it  ended  up  being  the  only  one  I  was  still  watching  into  adulthood.

Grange  Hill  replaced  A  Traveller  In  Time   as  the  Wednesday  serial  in  February  1978  but  was  a  very  different  beast. For  that  we  have  to  credit  one  of  my  least  favourite  people.  "Professor"  Phil  Redmond  who's  done  more  than  anyone  to  debase  the  whole  concept  of  higher  education  in  the  UK.  Nevertheless , Grange  Hill  was  a  landmark  in  childrens'  programming  and  should  always  be  regarded  as  a  feather  in  his  cap.

Grange  Hill  was  set  very  firmly  in  the  present  day  and  the  first  series  ( of  9  episodes )  followed  the  fortunes  of  what  we'd  now call  a  Year  7  class  as  they  entered  a  comprehensive  secondary  school  for  the  first  time. And  so  we  were  introduced  to  lovable  rogue  Tucker  Jenkins  ( Todd  Carty ), long-faced moaning  Cock-er-nee  Trisha  Yates ( Michelle  Herbert ), shy  swot Justin  ( Robert  Morgan )  and  deprived  black  football  ace  Benny  ( Terry  Sue  Patt ) in  the  form  class  of  typically  bland  geography  teacher  Mr  Mitchell  ( Michael  Percival )  with  his  naff  clothes  and  even  naffer  jokes . Some  of  the  others  introduced  in  the  first  episode  ( in  which  nothing  remotely  interesting  happens ) like  Judy, Ann  and  David  have  vanished  from  my  memory banks. My  favourite  was  big  fat  Alan ( George  Armstrong ). He  started  out  as  a  minor  character  , one  of  a  pair  of  henchmen for  Tucker's  escapades; the  scriptwriters  didn't even  give  him  a  consistent  surname  in  the  first  series  before  settling  on  "Humphries". However,  Alan  clicked  with  the  audience  and,  whereas  the  other  lad  didn't  make  it  to  the  second  series , he   became  a  strong  character in  his  own  right. Towards  the  end  of  the  series the  first  villain  was  introduced  in  Michael  Doyle  ( Vincent  Hall ) a  shifty-eyed  blonde  lad   but  he  was  a  bit  weedy  compared  to  his  successors  and  always  fairly  easily  outwitted  by  Tucker.

It  took  just  four  episodes  before  the  first  real  controversy  arose  when  Tucker  and  his  mates  dropped  the  benches  into  the  swimming  pool  and  parents  and  teachers  became  concerned  about  copy  cat  behaviour. Some  primary  kids  were  said  to  be  terrified  by  the  series.

Nevertheless  it  returned  the  following  year  and  in  a  big  way , now  twice weekly with  a  run  of  18  episodes.  Ann  was  dropped  but  the  class  was  fleshed  out  with  some  new  characters  mainly  girls  like  goody-good  Susi  McMahon  ( Linda  Slater )  who  was  often  compared  at  our  school  to  the  girl  I  fancied, posh  redhead  Penny  ( Ruth  Davies )  and  bright  Asian , Sudhamani  ( Sheila  Chandra ). The  series  also  acquired  its  first  sex  symbol  ( Trisha  actually  had  an  older  sister  Carol  who  was  quite  nice  but  didn't  feature  enough )  in  buxom  Cathy  Hargreaves  ( Lindy  Brill ). I  actually  preferred  her  dark  haired  sidekick  but  she  never  had  an  individual  storyline. Justin  got  a  mate  called  Andrew  who  had  family  problems  and  Tommy,  who'd  barely  had  a  line  before,  got   a  new  head and  a  beefed  up  role  as  another  mate  of  Tucker.  There  were  more  adult  regulars, such  as  new  headmaster  Mr  Llewellyn  ( Sean  Arnold ) prissy  English  teacher  Mr  Sutcliffe ( James Wynn ) and  hard but  fair  games  teacher  Mt  Baxter ( Michael Cronin ). I  don't  think  I  saw  much  of  this  series  first  time  round  but  my  sister  started  following  it.

Series  3  saw  a  split  focus  between  the  old  class , now  under  form  teacher  Miss  Peterson  and  a  new  crop  of  Year  7's  including  good-looking  Duane  Orpington ( Mark  Baxter )  and  charmless  fat  boy  Pogo  Patterson ( Peter  Moran ) . Their  form  teacher  was  the  too-good-to-be-true  Mr  Hopwood  ( Brian  Capron ). Redmond  started  pushing  the  envelope  a  bit  more  with  this  series  which  included  Susi  having  problems  with  a  bra, Cathy  having  period  pains  and  Sudhamani's  dad  fretting  over  her  Westernisation. There  was  also  a  nice  storyline  for  Alan  who  started  a  romance  with  Susi  towards  the  end  of  the  series.  I  think  my  viewing  was  intermittent  to  begin  with  but  became  more  regular  towards  the  end.

Series  4  is  the   one  where  I  was  most  committed  to  watching  the  series. The  younger  class  was  expanded  with  goodie-two-shoes  Clare  ( Paula  Ann  Bland ),  her  rebellious  mate  Suzanne  ( Susan  Tully  ), likely  lad   Stewpot  ( Mark  Burdis ), giant  black  girl  Precious (  Dulice  Liecier )  and   the  show's  most  notorious  villain,  Gripper  Stebson  ( Mark  Savage ) .  New  adult  characters  were  headmistress  Mrs  McCluskey  ( Gwyneth  Powell ) , sexy  IT  teacher  Miss  Lexington ( Allyson  Rees )  and   the  supremely  irritating  caretaker,  Mr  Thompson  ( Timothy  Bateson ).  This  series  saw  the  show  becoming  much  more  soap-like  with  story  arcs  stretching  across  a  number  of  episodes. One  of  these  saw  Cathy  forming  a  band  with  two  sidekicks , one  of  whom , ( either  Ruth  or  Gerry, I'm  not  sure )  was  a  dark-haired   beauty  but  she  never  got  a  surname  or  an  individual  storyline. That  story  ended  with  them  getting  the  cane  ( Note  for  CP  fetishists  ; it's  not  worth  you  checking it  out )  for  bunking  off  which  reminds  you  that  we  were  still  in  the  corporal  punishment  era  here.  However  in  what  was  the  most  memorable  episode  of  all  , a  transient  PE  teacher  Mr  Hicks,  played  by  serial  TV  villain  Paul  Jerricho,  oversteps  the  mark  and  gets  walloped  by  Mr  Baxter , a  scene  we'd  been  waiting  for  since  Kes   twelve  years  earlier. This  was  the  last  series  written ( in  the  main )  by  Redmond  who  had  his  hands  full  with  Brookside  which  debuted  later  in  the  year.

One  year  on,  I  was  in  the  sixth  form  and  no  longer  watching  kids  TV  ( I  took  part  in  a  sketch  based  on  Willo  the  Wisp  in  the  Sixth  Form  Review  despite  never  having  seen  the  programme )   but  was  drawn  back  to  Series  5  by  all  my  class  mates  talking  about  it  and  one  character  in  particular, the  hapless, hopelessly  obese  Roland  Browning  ( Erkan  Mustafa )  and  the  main  target  for  the  ever-nastier  Gripper. He  was  part  of   a  new  year  7  intake,  along  with  the  too  self-regarding  to  be  likable  prankster  Jonah  ( Lee  Sparke ), his  slightly  dim  sidekick  Zammo  ( Lee  McDonald  ), bubbly  croaky-voiced  blonde  Fay  ( Alison  Bettles )  and  slappable  spoilt  brat  Annette  ( Nadia  Chambers ).  The  one  thing  Roland  had  going  for  him  was  a  self-appointed  guardian  angel   Janet  ( Simone  Nylander )  who  followed  him  around  over-enunciating  his  name  as  "Ro-land"   but  alas  her  passion  was  unrequited. Episode  15  "Despair",  where  all  Roland's  difficulties  come  to  a  head  is  a  junior  equivalent  to  "Yosser's  Story"  in  Boys  from  the  Blackstuff,  a  remarkably  harrowing  25  minutes  for  a  children's  TV  slot. The  only  significant  addition  to  the  teaching  cast  was   long-haired  , sociology-spouting  leftie  Mr  McGuffie  ( Fraser  Cains )  who  was  something  of  a  caricature.

With   kids  preoccupied  by  impending  O  Levels  not  offering  too  many  dramatic  possibilities  , the  original  class  were  reduced  to   cameo   roles  in  this  series ( Tommy  and  Susi  didn't  appear  at  all ).  Apart  from  Tucker  making  a  couple  of  re-appearances  as  an  adult  many  years  later, this  was  the  last  series  to  feature  the  survivors  from   the  first  one ;  Alan,  Trisha, Benny  and  Justin  ( who'd  been  pretty  redundant  from  series  3 )  all  took  their  final  bows.

Having  baulked  at  killing  Roland  off  in  the  previous  series  the  only  way  for  the  writers  to  go   in  Series  6  was  to  make  him  a  bit  more  comfortable  in  school  and  that  necessitated  getting  Gripper  off  his  back. The  way  they  did  that  was  to  make  this  the  most  violent  and  controversial  series   of  all  as  Gripper  became  preoccupied  with  racism  and  set  up  his  own  version  of  the  BNP  in  the  school  which  would  eventually  lead  to  his  expulsion. Some  light  relief  was  had  with  three  episodes  taking  place  outside  the  school  precincts  on  a  field  trip  to  St  Alban's  and  an  Outward  Bound  course  in  Wales. Educational  politics, which  hadn't  been  a  major  part  of  the  series  before, reared  their  head  with  the  new  teacher  Mr  Smart  ( Simon  Heywood ),  fresh  from  public  school  with  a  head  full  of  inappropriate  ideas  and  approaches.

By  Series  7  I  had  left  school  myself  and  was  at  university  but  there  were  plenty  of  other  Grange  Hill  fans  in  my  Hall  of  Residence  and  I  saw  most  if  not  all  of  the  series. The  major  newcomers  were  a  raffish  rogue  Jimmy  McClaren  ( Gary  Love ) , love  interest  for  Zammo , Jackie ( Melissa  Wilks ) and  the  obnoxious  Jeremy  Irvine  ( Vincent  Matthews )  who'd   appeared  briefly  in  the  previous  series  as  the  now-departed  Jonah's  cousin. He  provided  the  series'  main  talking  point  when  , after  a  few  close  calls  in  previous  series  the  writers , bolstered  by  Redmond's  return  ( at  least  the  credits  for  each  episode  say  so ) , went  the  full  hog  and  killed  someone  off, Jeremy  not  re-surfacing  after  arsing  around  in  the  swimming  pool . Gripper  had  a  small  , rather  disappointing  cameo  in  one  episode. This  series  was  the  end  of  the  line  for  most  of  the  second  wave  of  pupils. Duane  and  Pogo  departed  along  with  Suzanne  who  provided  another  of  the  series'  iconic  moments  when  she  turned  up  dressed  as  Boy  George  and  gave  Mrs  McCluskey  a  mouthful  in  the  corridor  ( wildly  cheered  in  our  TV  room )  having  already  left  the  school.

The  big  break  happened  now  for  me  .  90%  of  the  students  in  the  Hall  left  at  the  end  of  the  year  either  because  they'd  graduated  or  preferred  to  house  share  in  the  bedsit  land  nearer  to  the  campus. The  handful  of  us  that  chose  to  remain  divvied  up  the  vacant  roles  on  the  Junior  Common  Room  Committee  between  us  ( I  was  Treasurer )  but  perhaps  inevitably  we  were  bitterly  resented  by  some  of  the  incoming  students  saddled  with  a  team  they'd  had  no  say  in  electing. And  so  we  tended  to  huddle  together for  mutual  protection  and  thus  began  the  ritual  of  trying  to  be  first  in  for  dinner  at  5.30pm. This  meant  queuing  from  5.00  pm,  outside  the  doors  where  there  were  some  comfy  chairs  to  sit  on ; we  were  later  satirised  for  this  in  the  Hall  newsletter  although  nobody  was  personally  singled  out. By  the  time  Grange  Hill  came  back  round  for  Series 8   in  February  1985   the  habit  was  too  ingrained  and  so  I  stopped  watching  it.

And  so  I  missed  Mr  Smart's  conversion  to  a  good  guy, the  entrance  of  the  fearsome  Mr  Bronson  ( Michael  Sheard )  ,  Zammo's  love  triangle  with  Jackie  and  rival  Banksy ( Tim  Polley   who  she  would  certainly  have  picked  in  real  life  )  and  most  famously  of  all  Zammo's  drug  habit  in  Series  9. I  was  aware  of  all  the  tabloid  hype  and  of  course  the  "Just  Say  No"  single  and  having  left  the  Hall  by  then  could  have  gone  back  to  the  series  but  I  didn't.

That  was  the  series'  zenith ; though  it  marched  on  it  would  never  enjoy  the  same   high   profile  again. Once  the  hysteria   had  died  down  I  thought  little  more  about  it  except  for  when  a  familiar  face  would   pop  up  in  something  else.

Then  in  April  1993  the  Beeb  started  repeating  the  series  starting  from  the  beginning   on  a  Sunday  morning  on  BBC2  to  celebrate  the  show's  fifteenth  anniversary. This  was  irresistible , to  wallow  in  something  from  what  I  already  deemed  the  golden  period  of  my  life  and  so  I  watched  Grange  Hill  all  over  again  with  far  greater loyalty  than  I had  the  first  time  round  ! I  didn't  stop  until  the  end  of  the  drugs  series which  they  reached   in  1996. There  was  no  reason  to  continue  beyond  that  point  so  I  signed  off  for  good. I  don't  recall  that  I  had  any  real  consciousness  that  the  series  was  still  going  strong  on  the  other  channel.

I  remember  reading  about  its  cancellation  in  February  2008  and  once  I'd  got  over  my  utter  amazement  that  it  had  still  been  going  for  all  those  intervening  years  I  felt  as  much  sadness  as  for  the  passing  of  Top  of  the  Pops  and  Smash  Hits,  those  other  totems  of  my  youth  that  todays  generation  had  discarded.   For  a  couple  more  years  there  will  be  school  children  who  dimly  remember  the  series  then  the  lights  will  go  out.

As  with  the  wrestlers,  I'm  not  going  to  attempt  to  trace  the  subsequent  careers  of  all  those  I've  mentioned . Inevitably  many  of  them  didn't  stay  in  acting  and  have  long  since  vanished  from  the  public  eye. Some  of  them  we'll  meet  again  in  a  spin-off  series  further  down  the  line.  In  2005  Justin  Lee  Collins  featured  Grange  Hill  in  his  Bring  Back...  series despite  the  series  not  having  finished  yet  but  he  concentrated  almost  solely  on  those  involved  in  the  Zammo  storyline  including  Erkan  Mustafa  who'd  had  a little  brush  with  the  law  over  drugs  himself  ( not  sure  if  it  went  to  court )  Alison  Bettles  who  was  now  just  a  happy  housewife   after  a  brief  spell  in  The  Bill  and  Lee  McDonald  who  did  some  reality TV  on  the  back  of  the  show  and  seems  to  be  the  one   most   enthusiastic  to  return  to  the  public  eye.

 They're  not  the  ones  who  really  hold  a  place  in  my  heart  though. I  was  sad  to  hear  of  the  passing  of  Terry  Sue  Patt  last  year. My  favourite  , George  Armstrong  was  last  heard  of  working  as  the  theatre  manager  at  a  public  school. His  lost  love  Linda  Slater  has  long  since  vanished . Sheila  Chandra  had  a  brief  pop  career  as  lead  singer  of  Monsoon  and  managed  to  sustain  a  low-key  career  in  world  music  until  she  fell  seriously  ill  a  few  years  ago  and  had  to  retire. The  lovely  Lindy  Brill  gave  up  acting  when  she  turned  30  and  now  works  in  personnel  at  a  finance  company  .In  case  anyone's  interested  (  and  let's  face  it  guys  we  are  )  I  think   just  three  of  the  actresses  I've  mentioned  above  have  subsequently  disrobed, Paula  Ann  Bland  in  The  Fruit  Machine  ( 1989 ) ,   Rudi  Davies  in  A  Sense  of  Guilt  ( 1990 )  and  The  Lonely  Passion  of  Judith  Herne  ( 1987 )   and  Melissa  Wilkes in  The  Advocate  ( 1993 ).


Sunday, 7 February 2016

334 World of Sport

First  viewed : 4  February  1978

I  doubt  whether  the  above  date  is  the  first  time  I  was  in  a  room  when  World  of  Sport  was  on  the  telly  but  it  is  the  first  time  I  watched  it  with  any  real  attention. Before  we  go  on  I  should  mention  that  I  am  indebted  to  John  Lister  and  the  team  at   for  supplying  me  with  that  date  and  much  other  information  used  in  this  post.

World  of  Sport   was  the  perennial  poor  relation  of  BBC's  Grandstand  against  which  it  was  scheduled. The  Beeb  had  all  the  tennis, cricket  and  athletics  rights  sewn  up  leaving  ITV  scratching  around  for  enough  footage  of  minority  sports  to  fill  up  its  time  slot.  Contrary  to  popular  belief  I  don't  think  they  ever  did  cover  a  tiddlywinks  event  but  some  of  the  stuff  came  close . The  host  was  the  cheery  Dickie  Davies  with  his  gap-toothed  grin  and  strange  white lock  ( caused  by  poliosis ) , seemingly  unconcerned  at  being  perceived  as  the  poor  man's  Des  Lynam. Perhaps  that's  because  he  knew  he  held  an  ace  card  , broadcast  each  week  at  4pm  , three  bouts  of  professional  wrestling.

I  first  caught  it  on  the  date  above  at  my  friend  Patrick's  house  although  a  student  teacher  we  had   covering  physical  fitness  had  mentioned  wrestling  a  week  or  so  earlier  referencing  a  mysterious  character  called  Big  Daddy. He wasn't  on  the  bill  that  afternoon. The  one  that  caught  my  eye  was  a  youngster  in  the  lightweight  category  who went  by  the  name  of  The  Dynamite  Kid. He  was  fighting  the  premier, in  fact  pretty  much  the  only, villain  in  the  light  or  welter  weight    brackets,  where  the  bouts  tended  to  feature  displays  of   speed  and  gymnastic  ability  rather  than  good  vs  evil  contests. Breaks  however  could  only  be  a  villain , a  small  man  with  a  pudding  basin  haircut  and  the  sort  of  face  you  wanted  to  slap. Besides  throwing  rabbit  punches on  the  blind  side  of  the  referee,  Breaks  also  antagonised  the  crowd   with  his  high-pitched  complaining  and  foot-stamping  tantrums  when  things  weren't  going  his  way. He  seemed  to  have  only  one  legitimate  tactic, trying  to  lift  his  opponent  in  the  air  while  bending  his  elbow  back  to  force  a  submission, what  was  known  as  the  "Breaks  Special".  Dynamite  Kid  won  the  bout  with  a  fall  and  a  submission. Also  on  the  bill  that  day  was  the  most  famous  villain  of  all, the  splendidly  seedy  Mick  McManus  with  his  fierce  battle  cry  of  "Not  me  ears !" . He  was  fighting  the  much  lighter  Johnny  Saint, a  lithe  clean cut  guy  who  lived  up  to  his  surname  in  the  ring  but  not  surprisingly  lost  to  McManus. The  other  bout  was  a  middleweight  contest  between  the  likable  middle-aged  Alan  Dennison  who  looked  like  Richard  Fairbrass's  dad   and  a  villain,  Peter  "Tally-ho"  Kaye  whose  gimmick  was  entering  the  ring  dressed  as  a  huntsman.

It  helped  that  the  wrestling  neatly  filled  the  gap  between  the  Half  Time  Scores  and  Final  Results  but  I  quickly  became  hooked  on  it   for  its  own  sake. I  heard  rumours  that  it  was  fixed  early  on  but  didn't  believe  them  and  certainly  didn't  want  to. The  regular  triumph  of  the  good  guys  over  their  adversaries  was  very  comforting  in  an  increasingly  scary  world  of  international  terrorism  and  arms  races. I  think  I  started  having  doubts  with  those  tag  team  contests  which  featured  the   real  life  brothers  Bert  Royal  and  Vic  Faulkner  which  were  splendidly  entertaining  and  well  choreographed   but  they  did  get  away  with  the  same  tricks  every  time. Surely  even  opponents  as  stupid-looking  as  Cyanide  Sid  Cooper  would  know  what  was  coming ? It's  now  pretty  much  universally  acknowledged  that  at  least  the  outcomes  were  fixed  but  there  was  as  much  skill  and  bravery  as  in  any  other  sport. Even  if  you  trusted  that  he  was  going  to  take  the  weight  on  his  hands  and  knees  it  still  took  guts   to  lie  on  the  canvas  and  let  the  40  stone  Giant  Haystacks  do  his  "splash"  move  on  you !  Ditto  the  ugly  bruiser  Mal  "King  Kong"  Kirk  with  his  guillotine  chop  across  the  neck. If  he  got  that  wrong  you'd  be  in  deep  trouble  if  not  actually  decapitated.

Generally  the  good  guys  were  the  better  looking,  younger  fighters  and  the  villains  were  the  older , uglier  ones  though  there  were  odd  exceptions. Mark  "Rollerball"  Rocco  was   a  super  villain  but  looked  like  Olympic  swimmer  Mark  Spitz  while  the  main  rival in  his  weight, the  usually  fair   Marty  Jones  was  cross-eyed.  As  a  consequence  Rocco  was  allowed  to  win  more  bouts  than  was  usual  for  a  "heel". Sometimes  they  got  it  wrong  and  had  to  change  tack. The  Irish  fighter  Fit  Finley  started  out  as  a  fair  competitor  but   audiences  weren't  warming  to  him  and  he  made  a  much  bigger  impression  as  a  villain  with  bunny-boiler  wife  Princess  Paula,  who  dressed  up  as  an  Indian  squaw  , in  tow. Political  correctness  wasn't  exactly  high  on  the  agenda   as  Alan  Bardouville  whose  ring  ID  was, ahem, "Kid  Chocolate"  would  no  doubt  agree.

I  didn't  see  Big  Daddy  until  25  March  1978   when  he  beat  the  aforementioned  Kirk. His  real  name  was  Shirley  Crabtree . His  father  who  shared  the  same  Christian  name  was  a  wrestler  himself  and  his  brothers  Max  and  Brian  were  also  involved  in  the  sport  as  a  top  promoter  and  MC  respectively.  The  Crabtrees  actually  lived  just  a  short  bus  ride  away  from  me  in  Millbank  village  near  Ripponden. Shirley  had  been  a  wrestler  since  the  fifties , in  other  guises,  but  hadn't  reached  the  top  of  the  game  and  was  pretty  washed-up  by  the  early  seventies. Max  and  Shirley's  wife  Bert  ( I'm  kidding  there  ; she  was  actually  Eunice )   masterminded  his  re-branding  as  Big  Daddy, making  a  virtue  of  the  fact  he'd  gone  to  seed  physically  with  a  massive  beer  belly  and  man-boobs. Big  Daddy  started  out  as  a  villain  in  a  tag  team  partnership  with  the  terrifying  Haystacks  but  after  he  was  cheered  for  unmasking  Kendo  Nagasaki   ( something  the  latter  conveniently  forgot  when  he  staged  his  famous  unmasking  ceremony  a  few  years  later ) he  was  converted  into   a  fantasy  hero.

Once  he  became  a  good  guy  Big  Daddy's  popularity  went  through  the  roof  and  he  became  a  more  popular  figure  for  children  than  Mickey  Mouse. He  spent  more  time   making  personal  appearances  at  children's  wards  and  parties  than  he  did  in  the  ring. With  his  snowy  hair, top  hat, naturally  carrot-shaped  nose  and  white  leotard  he  looked  like  a  snow  man  come  to  life.
You  didn't  actually  get  that  much  ring  action  from  Daddy  ; in  his  late  forties  by  1978   and  quite  obviously  less  than  fully  fit,  he  only  had  a  limited  repertoire   of  moves  and  stamina. You  had  to  accept  that  his  blubbery  belly  was  brick  hard  and  could  be  deployed  as  an  offensive  weapon. He  didn't  fight  many  singles  bouts  he  was  usually  to  be  found  in  tag  team  matches  which  always  followed  the  same  script. He  was  paired  up  with  a  much  lighter  good  guy  against  two  cheating  bruisers .  His  partner  would  start  in  the  ring  and  after  a  brief  bit  of  wrestling  would  get  dragged  over  to  the  opponents'  corner  where  both  would  kick  the  shit  out  of  him  and  take  the  lead  with  a  fall  or  submission. In  the  next  round  they'd  carry  on  where  they  left  off  then, with  the  last  ebb  of  his  strength , he'd  make  a  fingertip  contact  with  Daddy  who'd  storm  in  and  wipe  the  floor  with  them  often  both  at  the  same  time. It  was  terribly  corny  but  it  worked  every  time  and  I  loved  him  as  much  as  any  other  child. He  was  an  idol  for  bullied  children everywhere; who  wouldn't  want  to  believe  in  a  super  "Dad"  who  could  come  into  the  playground  and  mete  out instant  justice  to your  persecutors. He  reversed  the  routine  for  an  appearance  on  Jim'll  Fix  It    where  a  little  boy  was  his  tag  team  partner. The  fall  guys  were  the  long-haired  Banger  Tony  Walsh  and  a  barely  mobile  40  stone  tub  of  lard  called  Fatty  Thomas  who  were  each  laid  low  by  Daddy  before  the  little  lad  came  on  to  lie  on  their  shoulders  and  claim  the  fall. I  do  hope  Daddy  didn't  get  too   friendly  with  his  fellow  Yorkshireman ( and  a  former  werestler  himself )  , the  host; it  would  just  kill  me  if  his  name  got  dragged  into  the  mire.

At  the  beginning  of  1979  a   Canadian   heavyweight  named  the  Mighty  John  Quinn  came  over  to  the  UK . He  really  did  look  the  part  and  after  demolishing  the  hapless  Beau  Jack  Rowlands  with  his  strength  and  villainy  he  started  calling  out  the  British  wrestlers  on  the  MC's  microphone.  World  of  Sport  followed  his  progress  as  he  bested  Barry  Douglas, Len  Hurst   and  Lee  Bronson  making  himself  more  and  more  unpopular  on  the  way  to  a  final  showdown  with  Big  Daddy  in  the  summer. Of  course  Daddy  polished  him  off  in  less  than  two  minutes  at  Wembley  Arena.   The  Quinn/Daddy  feud  storyline   was  repeated  again  a  couple  of  years  later  with  Daddy's  former  tag  partner  Haystacks  taking  Quinn's  role. The  big  match  ended  in  the  first  round.  with  Haystacks  falling  out  of  the  ring , demolishing  a  table  as  he  fell  and  not  being  able  to  climb  back  inside  in  time.

Other  wrestlers  I   remember  from  the  late  seventies  included   Catweazle  who  bore   a  slight  resemblance  to  the  TV  character  , fought  in  a  Victorian  bathing  costume  and  used  "girlie"  tactics  like  pulling  hair  and  nipping. I  hated  him  but  liked  Kung  Fu  , a  blonde  Irish  guy  who  fought  barefoot. Another  blonde  was  Ray  Steele  , a  Charlton  Heston  lookalike  heavyweight    and   consequently  a  good  guy. Steve  Grey   was   a  lightweight  who  looked  like  Gareth  Thomas   from  Blake's  7  and  fought  two  very  technical  battles  in  the  best  possible  spirit  with  world  lightweight  champion  Johnny  Saint  but  failed  to  take  his  belt.  Johnny  Kwango  was  a  black  guy   whose  specialty  was  fake  headbutts  but  outside  the  ring  had  been  a  ballet  dancer, actor  and  jazz  musician. John  Naylor  was  a  generally  fair  lightweight  who  is  remembered  for  crushing  the  hapless  Keith  Rawlinson  who  entered  the  ring  through  Esther  Rantzen's  The  Big  Time   ( not  in  a  bout  screened  by  World  of  Sport  of  course ).  There  was  also  the  bearded  Pat  Roach  before  he  found  fame  on  Auf  Wiedersehn  Pet  who  seemed  to  plough  his  own  furrow  in  the  heavyweight  bracket  , neither  hero  nor  villain.

Some of  the  guys  brought  martial  arts  expertise  into  the  ring. Besides  the  aforementioned  Kung  Fu  there  was  Iron  Fist  Clive  Myers  a  good-looking  black  dude  who  wore  a  headband  and  pin  up  boy  Judo  Chris  Adams. I  remember  watching  one  programme  at  my  grans  and  her  incredulous  surprise  at  seeing  people  her  age  in  the  audience. Needless  to  say  when  Adams  fought  his  bout  she  was  as  swept  along  with  it  as  those  baying  on  screen.

One  interesting  story  arc  began  with  the  entrance  of  a 16  year  old  Dave  Boy  Smith  ( Dynamite  Kid's  cousin )  in  the  autumn  of  1978  who  was  managed  by  Alan  Dennison. After  his  prodigy's  punishing  encounter  with  Breaks  for  the  welterweight  title,  Dennison  , a  middleweight  , announced  that  he'd  be  losing  the  required  pounds  to  get  down  to  Breaks's  weight  and  teach  him  a  lesson. He  was  as  good  as  his  word  but  only  just  managed  it.  Interestingly, as  Dennison  shed  the  pounds  Smith  bulked  up  and  eventually  landed  in  the  heavyweight  bracket.

Another  memorable  contest, again  involving  Breaks ,  was broadcast  on  14  February  1981. He  was  fighting  an  unremarkable  goodie  called  Jon  Cortez. In  the  final  round, out  of  the  referee's  sight  but  in  full  view  of  the  commentary  table,   he  illegally  pulled  at  Cortez's  trunks  which  allowed  him  to  gain  the  decisive  fall. As  soon  as  referee  Max  Wall  counted  Cortez  out  , World  of  Sport's  genial  commentator  Kent  Walton  jumped  up   and  told  Wall  what  he'd  done  saying  as  an  aside  "Oh  I'm  going  to  get  into  trouble  for  this ". Breaks  of  course  grabbed  the  microphone  and  protested  his  innocence  but  Wall  eventually  decided  to  believe  Walton  and  disqualified  Breaks  prompting  the  usual  tantrum. Dickie  Davies  jokingly  announced  that  the  following  week's  action  would  feature  a  bout  between  Breaks  and  Walton.  

I  was  a  regular  viewer   by  the  turn  of  the  decade  and  led  by  me, getting  back  home  in  time  for  the  wrestling  became  a  regular  feature  of  the   Saturday  trips  with  my  friends. In  December  1979   posters  went  up  in  Rochdale  advertising   a  professional  wrestling  event  at  the  Champness  Hall. After  much  umming  and  aahing  I  bought  a  ticket  and  this  , two  and  a  half  years  before  my  first  match  at  Spotland  , became  my  first  paying  attendance  at  a  sporting  event. Part  of  my  hesitation  was  due  to  the  fact  that  I  only  recognised  one  name  on  the  bill  , the  humdrum  Manchester  welterweight  Mike  Flash  Jordan*  which  suggested  it  might  not  be  a  top  rank  event. My  fears  were  well  founded. I  have  never  felt  so  ripped  off. The  whole  event  was  amateur-ish  from  start  to  finish. None  of  the  bouts  were  as  advertised. Jordan  did  show  up  but  lost  very  tamely  to  a  bloke  called  Abe  Ginsberg, apparently  a  regular  on  Coronation  Street   i.e.  one  of  those  Equity-card  holders  drinking  in  the  background  in  the  Rovers , who  was  supposed  to  be  taking  part  in  a  tag  team  contest. That  never  materialised  and  when  the MC  announced  that  Father  Christmas  would  soon  be  arriving  with  some  sweets  for  the  children  ( i.e. once  he'd  found  an  off  licence or  petrol  station )  the  spartan  crowd  started  jeering. I'd  seen  enough  and  decided  to  catch  an  earlier  bus  home.

If  you  know  my  other  blogs  you'll  have  worked  out  what  eventually  broke  the  spell  wrestling  had  over  me. We  didn't  have  a  colour  TV  never  mind  a  VCR  when  I  first  went  to  watch  the  Dale  in  May 1982   and  thereafter  the  grapplers  always  took  second  place  to  the  lads  in  blue. When  I  look  at  the  names  competing  in  the  weeks  immediately  before  that  day,  some  of  them  ring  no  bells  at  all  which  indicates  my  interest  was  probably  waning  even  before  then. I  do  recall  getting  annoyed  at  how  often  the  deaf  and  dumb  fighter  Alan  Kilby  was  featuring  , feeling  that  this   was  excessive  emotional  manipulation.

By  the  time  World  of  Sport  ended  in  September  1985 , mainly  because  racing  had  switched  to  Channel  4,  and  the  wrestling  moved  to  a  standalone  Saturday  lunchtime  spot   after  Saint  and  Greavsie ,  I  don't  think  I  was  watching  it  much  at  all. I  still  felt  a  little  saddened  when  Greg  Dyke  decided  to  pull  the  plug  on  it  at  the  beginning  of  1988  and  outraged  when  the  rationale  emerged , that  the  audience  didn't  fit  the  advertisers'  desired  demographic. I  don't  know  how  he  claimed  to  be  a  supporter  of  the  Labour   Party  after  that. I  have  absolutely  no  interest  whatsoever  in  the  American  product.

Professional  wrestling  didn't  die  the  day  the  cameras  were  turned  off .   I  remember  one  of  the  accountants  at  Tameside  MBC   in  the  late  eighties  remarking  that   the  only  people  who  could  make  a  show  at  the  Theatre  ( which  the  council  propped  up )  pay  for  itself   were  "Chubby  ( i.e  comic  Roy   Brown )  and  "Big  Daddy" . It  did  however   slowly  decline  as  the  old  stars  died  ( some  of  whom   had  already  died  in  the  saddle  like  Mal  Kirk  and  Alan  Dennison )  or  retired.   Some  of  the  younger  ones  went  to  America  and  made  a  fortune; Smith  and  Dynamite  Kid  were  a  headline  act  as  the  tag  team  "British  Bulldogs".  Today  it  really  is  a  minority  sport.

I  haven't  got  time  to  track  down  the  subsequent  fortunes  of  every  one  I've  mentioned  but  I  dare  say  you  could  do  it. Big  Daddy  , who was  present  at  the  deaths  of  both  Kirk  and  Dennison,  finally   retired  following  a  stroke  in  1993  and  the   Crabtrees  pulled  out  of  the  business  not  long  afterwards.  Shirley  died  of  another  stroke  four  years  later.  Dynamite  Kid  , real  name  Tom  Billington  is  only  57  but  now  wheelchair  bound  after  steroid  abuse, cocaine  and  staying  in  the  game  too  long  have taken  their  toll.  His  former  partner  Smith  died  of  a  heart  attack  which  probably  owed  something  to  steroid  abuse  in  2002. Haystacks  too  had  a  brief  career  in  the  US  under  the  name  Loch  Ness  but  succumbed  to  cancer  in  1998. The  dastardly  Breaks  was  last  heard  of  living  in  happy  retirement  in  the  Canary  Islands.

There  is  of  course  one  other  wrestler  whose  name  I  haven't  mentioned  much,  who  has  retained  his   mystique  through   the  decline  of  the  sport  and  all  the  subsequent  exposes  , and  whose  enduring  appeal  seems  to  transcend  the  sport  itself.  Though  we  now  know  he  was  a  guy  from  the  Midlands  called  Peter  Thornley  (  thanks  to  a  sharp-eyed  plumber ) ,  his  ring  name,  Kendo  Nagasaki,   can  still  inspire  hushed  tones  from  the  most  cynical  of  cultural  commentators.  Nagasaki  was  arguably  the  most  contrived  act  of  all  , a  near-permanently  masked  man   of  unknown  origin  who never  spoke,  except  through  his  cross-dressing  manager  "Gorgeous"  George  Gillette,   and  never  lost  ( except  through  disqualification ) but  somehow  he  took  hold  hold  of  the  imagination  and  kept  it.  Peter  Blake  has  painted  him  and  though  long  since  retired,  he  still  does  interviews  as  Kendo  through  an  interpreter.

Part  of  the  reason  is  that  he  was  never  over-exposed. For  a  long  time  he  was  thought  to  be  too  sinister  for  an  afternoon  audience  and  kept  off  the  screen  so  you  had  to  pay  at  the  door  if  you  wanted  to  see  him. He  was   also  retired  on  medical  advice  between  1978 and  1982  ( leading  to  a  spell  in  rock  management  with  The  Cuddly  Toys )   which  is  why  the  only  time  I  ever  saw  him  fight  was  a  mock  brawl  with  Marty  Jones  on  Granada's  Upfront   in  1990   ( who  on  earth  booked  Kendo  Nagasaki  for  a  talk  show ? ). Incidentally,  it  wasn't  mock  enough  for  host  Tony  Wilson  who  wasn't  quick  enough  in  getting  out  of  the  way  and  was  still  receiving  medical  treatment  for  his  injuries  months  later , or  a  make-up  lady  who  sued  both  him  and  Granada  with  a  judge  eventually  deciding  the  broadcaster  was  solely  to  blame. He  finally  retired  for  good   due  to  a  slight  heart  condition  in  2001. I  guess  that , like  surly  rock  climber  Don  Whillans, his  is  a  cult  that  I'll  never  quite  get.

The last  word  on  World  of  Sport  though  should  be  about  Davies. He  remained  with  ITV  for  the  rest  of  the  decade  hosting  its  boxing  and  snooker  coverage  then  worked  sporadically  for  Sky  and  Classic  FM , interrupted  by  a  stroke  in  the  mid-nineties, while  pursuing  business  interests  such  as  a  frozen  foods  company. Now  aged  82  he  admits  he  didn't  really  enjoy  the  wrestling.

* Many  years  later  in  2004  when  I  was  preparing  to  leave  Manchester  City  Council  I  had  to  do  some  handover  sessions  with  a  bloke  called  Kevin  Jordan. After  a  time  it  suddenly  struck  me  that  he  looked  a  lot  like  the  Flash  and  it  turned  out  to  be  his  brother.